07 September 2009
Everything looked to be setting up for an abysmal week one. Bama was looking to start a new quarterback, behind an offensive line with three new starters, with a new running back... and facing a perennially great defensive team in Virginia Tech.
The result? A measly 34 points and 498 yards of total offense.
The best thing that the Bama offense did Saturday was move the ball when it mattered most. The Tide got points on its first possession, setting the tone for the entire game. They responded by scoring on their drive following three of Tech's four scores - and they set up a missed field goal after the fourth.
When you score to start the game, and then answer every one of your opponent's scores, it's tough to lose games. This offense did a nice job of stepping up when it had to on Saturday.
The number two thing that jumps out at me is how varied the offense was. Bama was an extremely vanilla in 2008, and I sort of expected to see a lot of that in 2009. Nope. From the very first snap, with Mark Ingram at quarterback, this was a different Alabama offense. There was a lot of shotgun, a lot of flexed tight ends, a lot of players in motion, a lot of "pistol" formation, and a lot of plays that we didn't see in 2008 - and a lot of wildcat. When I consider that this was week one, and the offense will likely get more diverse as the season progresses, I can't help but get excited over where this group could be by week seven or eight.
Bama only had two possessions that were "3 and out" on Saturday. Technically there were two others, as one possession went "3 and a FG" and another saw an interception on the third play. So Bama had four possessions where it failed to pick up a first time. Conversely, Virginia Tech had seven of those possessions.
Looking at it position by position:
It is funny that Greg McElroy is still looking for his first start as the Alabama QB. Technically Mark Ingram was the starter at quarterback on Saturday, though McElroy did start the game at wide receiver.
When you consider that Greg threw seven consecutive incomplete passes in the first half, and still managed to end the game at 50%, you have to be pleased. He was 9-12 passing in the second half, and one of those three incompletions came on a great pass thet Julio Jones <gasp> dropped.
Greg threw for 230 yards - more than John Parker Wilson had at any time in 2008. What that means is that the coaching staff was not afraid to let Greg throw the ball, and to throw it in crucial situations.
He had a lot of tunnel vision early in the game, but made a huge adjustment at half time to look at someone other than Julio. What ended up happening is that four other players ended up catching passes. While that's not a huge total, it certainly indicates that Greg wasn't afraid to spread the ball around.
His one interception came at a bad spot on the field, but wasn't the case of a bad throw. He got hit as he was throwing the ball, and that caused the ball to float into the middle of the field. It was likely a poor decision on Greg's part, but it was not a case of him trying to squeeze the ball into coverage.
He was able to connect downfield to both Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks, and that's something that was missing from Bama's offense through much of 2008. Downfield passes, especially when completed, gives the offense so many more weapons, as it forces the safeties away from the line of scrimmage. The fact that Greg completed two of these in week one is a great sign.
The biggest thing is that Greg was not just a "game manager." In fact, he made several key throws in the second half that helped Bama win the game. The biggest of those was obviously the long pass to Maze, but he added a nice pass to Colin Peek on second and eleven that set up his touchdown pass to Mark Ingram.
When breaking in a new quarterback in a tough game, it's often that the coaches will simply ask him to not lose the game. The Bama coaches had the confidence in Greg to actually give a shot to win the game. And Greg responded with a great second half. Overall - 15 of 30 for 230 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT, with 28 yards rushing.
When your top back wins the SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors, you know that things have gone pretty well at this position. Mark Ingram was fantastic in a vastly expanded role. He not only set career highs for carries and receptions in one game, but he took a number of snaps at quarterback. Forgetting the flashy stuff, if you remove his plays run from the wildcat, he averaged almost seven yards a carry.
That's big against any opponent, but even more impressive against a good defense. What really stood out to me was how hard he ran. That was something he had in his game last season, but Saturday we saw him breaking tackle after tackle. This kid is special, and he should have a great season. Hopefully he won't have to carry the ball 25+ times very often, though. Overall, 26 carries for 150 and a touchdown, with 3 receptions for 35 and a touchdown.
Roy Upchurch also had a solid game, even with the fumble. I know the fumble could have been costly, and should have been avoided. The Tech defender made a nice play, and Roy likely won't fumble like that again. The fact that Roy was able to not only play, but play with such authority was fantastic to see.
After seeing the way he left the field against Auburn last year, I had doubts that we'd ever see him again. His first carry went for 19 yards, and a touchdown, and also saw him run directly through Tech's safety. Any worries about his neck evaporated there.
On the play where he fumbled, he showed the great balance that made him such an effective weapon last year. It looks awkward sometimes, but the reality is that he manages to regain his balance an accelerate to full speed so quickly that it just doesn't look natural. His role this season will be the same as Saturday night - a fresh pair of legs that plays exactly the same as Ingram. And that's an impressive thing to have as a second unit guy.
Overall - 7 carries for 90 yards and a touchdown. That's a cool average of 12.9 yards per.
Terry Grant only got two carries, for just two yards. And the result of that is that he was working with the receivers on Monday at practice. The kid is explosive, but just isn't suited to play running back the way that Nick Saban likes to use them.
Trent Richardson just got three carries, on Bama's last three plays, but showed why Bama fans will love him. On his first play he trucked a guy and dragged two others for six yards, while simply doing nothing by running straight forward with his shoulders low. He finished with ten yards on those three carries, and will likely see considerably more time this coming weekend.
I'll let Glen55 take care of breaking these guys down in his "From the Couch" article that will be up in a few days. I'd love to give great analysis here, but simply don't have the knowledge base to do it. I do know that an offense that puts up 498 yards, while only allowing two sacks, has gotten good line play.
I also know that William Vlachos made an big adjustment at half time that allowed him to get his shotgun snaps up around the chest, instead of at the ankles. And that seemed to help with the timing on Bama's rushing plays from the shotgun position.
Otherwise, I'll let Glen take care of the big fellows.
It had to happen at some point in time, I guess -- Julio Jones had a sub-par game. You have to take into consideration that he was being double-teamed by a very good defense. But he not only dropped a crucial pass on third down, but allowed a corner to tackle him one-on-one when he hit the corner on his end around play. Neither of those two things happened last season. I'm not worried in the slightest, though. If he catches just four balls in every game, he'll end the season with 52-56 catches, which is ten more than he had last year. So "sub-par" has to be put in perspective. Overall - 4 receptions for 46 yards.
Darius Hanks was the secondary threat that Bama looked for all last season. He and McElroy seemed to have a solid rhythm - not surprising since both guys worked together on the second unit in 2008. Hanks made big catches, with all three of his receptions resulting in third down conversions. He looked great settling into the holes in Tech's zones, and could be a nightmare for defensive coordinators to account for. The catch he made to haul in his lone first half reception is an immediate highlight for the Tide. Overall - 3 receptions for 55 yards.
Marquis Maze made his prescence known as well, making the biggest catch of the day to help put Bama ahead. He didn't score the go ahead touchdown, but set it up with his over the shoulder catch of 48 yards early in the fourth quarter. His job will be to stretch the field and keep safeties from being able to double team Julio, and he did that on Saturday. He also added a nine yard reception to help set up Bama's first touchdown. Overall - 2 receptions for 57 yards.
Colin Peek was as advertised. He not only did a great job of blocking, but made three big receptions. He was also a load for defenders to bring down, giving Alabama a true threat in the passing game from the tight end spot. He technically had a fourth reception on Bama's 2-point conversion, though that doesn't count towards statistics. He is such an amazingly difficult match-up due to his size and athleticism. I expect we'll see Bama continue to go his way 3-5 times every game.
I guess the only surprising thing for this offense is the fact that so few guys actually played.
- Other than the three receivers who caught passes, only Mike McCoy and Earl Alexander played - no appearance by Brandon Gibson or Kevin Norwood.
- Behind Peek and Smelley, we saw Preston Dial and Michael Williams, but not Chris Underwood or Undra Billingsley.
- The only five offensive linemen who saw offensive snaps were the starting five.
- That means that Bama played a total of 19 guys on offense.
If the Tide offense manages to put up 34 points per game, Bama is going to be tough to beat, especially if they cut down the turnovers. Keeping the ball for better than 37 minutes makes it extremely difficult for opposing offenses to develop any type of rhythm.
What's nice is seeing both the rushing and passing attack top 200 yards in the same game. It's also nice to see two receivers with more yards than Julio.
Yes, there were stupid penalties. Yes, there were turnovers. Yes, the team needs to get better in the red zone. But with eight guys making their first start as college players, I'm thrilled to see nearly 500 yards and 34 points.
|< Prev||Next >|